Brian Holmes on Thu, 17 Nov 2016 06:43:13 +0100 (CET)

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Re: <nettime> What is the meaning of Trump's victory?

On 11/14/2016 06:17 PM, Angela Mitropoulos wrote:

With all due respect, the myopia in this discussion is breathtaking.
If the explanation of declining social solidarity were true, then
why was it white people who overwhelmingly voted for Trump? Why
isn't fascism's constituency made up of those who are poor rather
than those who are white (irrespective of income)? etc.

For my part, I never said that class can be separated from race. I think the European colonization of the world made racism a structural part of the so-called Western societies. Living in the US, one sees racism at work every day, and every struggle against it is important, as so many people of all colors, ages and confessions have recognized by supporting Black Lives Matter. However, in the wake of Trump's election, if one says that all the people who elected him are racist at their very core, then the situation becomes fatal: because not only are the racist politicians holding power with all its levers, but their supporters are in a majority over huge swathes of the territory. To essentialize all of Trump's supporters as racist, allowing them no other significant motivations, is bad politics. It abandons every other form of intervention at a time when the accusation of racism is something its targets are glorying in.

Here is what I think. Human beings do not have an unalterable core. They are aspirational as well as traditional, and under capitalism most people aspire to so-called economic success. Changes in class privilege are extremely dangerous for the Euro-capitalist societies, because they make sheer "whiteness" with all its historical ills into the most attractive identity that increasingly desperate people can claim ( Desperate is not a figure of speech: in rural areas on the US, the death rate has actually *gone up* for whites without a college education since 1999. That's not the trend for any other group. The early deaths are mostly attributed to opioid use, which typically begins with prescription drugs and ends with heroin ( This about lives gone wrong, loss, emptiness, meaninglessness, as so many testimonies and studies explain. The intertwining of race and class and failed economic policy begins to get at it, but there would also be major questions to ask about what's promoted as the good life, how society traps people into "cruel optimism" where what we want is what hurts us, and so on.

To be sure, privilege is unjust, and an across-the-board change in class positions leading to greater equality would be a good thing. Instead in the US we have extremes of both wealth and poverty in the cities; while the decline of old manufacturing centers and especially of rural areas is ignored when not scorned. Trump addressed small-town people in situations of decline and despair, mingling vague economic promises with an explicitly racist claim to the benefits of whiteness. Clearly the mainsteam Democrats failed to address those people with any more substantive promise, much less any action over the last 25 years. One of the practical questions right now is how to do that, without in any way condoning or accepting the undeniable racism that is empowering a former fringe.

I brought Polanyi into this discussion because of his core concept, that fascism emerges from a society's attempts to protect itself against the ravages of capitalism: a self-protective dynamic that can end in situations far more damaging than the initial one that provoked it. I fail to see the myopia in the reference. To suggest as you do, Angela, that those who quote Polanyi want to return to neofeudalism is more on the order of an insult than an argument, just like your earlier idea that the Occupiers and those who participated in the counter-globalization movement are now leaning toward the alt-right. Well, whatever, intellectuals get irritated with other intellectuals, that's neither new nor interesting. I'd rather hear your proposals, what you think can be done to change the current politics of resentment that is spinning out of control.

best, Brian

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